Quantification and Imaging of Nanoscale Contact with Förster Resonance Energy Transfer

Mónica G. Simões, Georg Urstöger, Robert Schennach, Ulrich Hirn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adhesion is caused by molecular interactions that only take place if the surfaces are in nanoscale contact (NSC); i.e., the distance between the surfaces is in the range of 0.1-0.4 nm. However, there are several difficulties measuring the NSC between surfaces, mainly because regions that appear to be in full contact at low magnification may show no NSC when observed at higher magnifications. Thus, the measurement area of NSC is very small with imaging techniques, and an experimental technique to evaluate NSC for large contact areas has not been available thus far. Here, we are proposing Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) spectroscopy/microscopy for this purpose. We demonstrate that NSC in a distance range of 1-10 nm can be evaluated. Our experiments reveal that, for thin films pressed under different loads, NSC increases with the applied pressure, resulting in a higher FRET signal and a corresponding increase in adhesion force/energy when separating the films. Furthermore, we show that local variations in molecular contact can be visualized with FRET microscopy. Thus, we are introducing a spectroscopic technique for quantification (FRET spectroscopy) and imaging (FRET microscopy) of NSC between surfaces, demonstrated here for the application of surface adhesion. This could be of interest for all fields where adhesion or nanoscale surface contact are playing a role, for example, soft matter, biological materials, and polymers, but also engineering applications, like tribology, adhesives, and sealants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19521-19529
Number of pages9
JournalACS Applied Materials & Interfaces
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2021


  • adhesion
  • contact mechanics
  • FRET microscopy
  • FRET spectroscopy
  • Förster resonance energy transfer
  • nanoscale contact
  • polymer films

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)

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